Lie Detectors: Weight Loss & Lying About Your Diet

One of the biggest mistakes we make when we try to lose weight is that we fight our own bodies.  We try to trick our metabolism or somehow think we are going to ‘get around’ our biology by taking XYZ supplements, and the truth is that it rarely works. Just because we are overweight does not mean that our genes have dictated that we will always be fat.  It does mean that we are fighting the rising tide and that odds are we won’t be successful when we try to trick our bodies!

Biology is biology and our bodies are going to follow the rules dictated in their genes; if that means hanging onto fat stores to ensure its survival, that’s what it’s going to do, even if we are starving ourselves to lose that thirty pounds stuck on our butts and thighs. In order to lose that extra weight, instead of fighting with our bodies, we need to convince them that we are on their side, because– really– there are no “sides!” It’s all just Us.  If our bodies give out and die, so do we, so instead of fighting with them, our best course of action is to learn how to work with our bodies.

Humans are great negotiators, especially when it comes to weight loss.  We are fond of telling ourselves that we’ll have this cupcake at work today and we will skip the latte on the way home; then it’s time for the latte and we’re really feeling tired, so we tell ourselves we’ll have the latte and skip the sweet potato fries for dinner; but now it’s dinner time and – you guessed it!– we’re really hungry so we’ll have those fries! “They aren’t that much!”

We try negotiating and blurring the edges by telling ourselves that “we’re working really hard” or “it was a very stressful day” or “I’ve been so good lately.” Whatever we are telling ourselves, unless we are actually eating healthier or being more active or doing what’s best for our health, none of what we tell ourselves matters!

I see this in every episode of My 600 lb Life: patients try bargaining with Dr. Nowzaradan like he is in control of their bodies and it’s his choice whether they are healthy enough for bariatric surgery or not. He tries impressing on them: #1) whatever they decide to put into their mouths is ultimately their own choice; #2) if they choose not to follow his diet and recommendations, it is only a matter of time until their bodies give out and they die.  Even patients who do follow the diet and lose weight are still at risk as one of his patients nearly died on the table.

Obviously, most of us aren’t that close to death because of our weight, but we still try bargaining our way out of doing what’s best for our health.  We are used to eating something sweet after dinner and we just couldn’t resist those cravings! So, here we are having a “small bowl” of ice cream.  We’ve been really good so we decided to treat ourselves to a slice of pizza, or we wanted to try that new sandwich at the deli or whatever excuse we had for eating what we did.  Bottom line: if it’s too much food, or too much sugar or too much whatever it was, our bodies aren’t going to give us a pass on gaining weight or not losing  just because we “really had a craving” or have been “doing really good.”

While most of us aren’t going to die if we don’t lose that thirty pounds of spare tire around our midsection, the health effects show up anyway.  Usually we have stiff joints or arthritis from carrying around that extra weight.  Our blood pressure can go up; our blood glucose goes up and we end up diabetic or pre-diabetic.  We have conditions like acid reflux, heart burn and get a bit breathless when we have to take the stairs or do some prolonged walking.  We tell ourselves “we’re trying” but how hard are we really working on weight loss? Does that A1c go down any? Or our blood pressure? Is taking the stairs any easier?

I know how hard it is to have cravings and how much we really want to indulge in the carbs or the sugar. But at the end of the day, even though we’ve lied to ourselves, we really haven’t lied to our bodies: they know what we ate and how much of it too! We can tell ourselves, our families and our doctors that we’ve been sticking to our healthy eating plan, working really hard and doing good but our bodies know the truth of those statements and they can’t lie.  The A1c shows how much sugar we’ve eaten; our triglycerides show how often you eat refined carbs and that spare tire around your middle is looking well-inflated!

What we don’t realize is that when we do eat healthier, get plenty of rest and activity, our bodies start letting go of the extra weight. We’re not only giving our metabolism plenty of fuel, we are giving it the “good stuff.” That means it doesn’t need to hang onto the spare tire so the extra pounds start to disappear. It means the A1c drops and the blood pressure and there is less acid reflux waking us up in the middle of the night.  It means the stiff achy joints are less stiff and achy. We haven’t beaten our bodies at their own game: the opposite is true. We’ve learned how to play their game by eating more whole foods, less processed foods and eating only when we are hungry instead of according to the clock.

Most of us don’t remember what it felt like when we actually felt ‘good’ instead of just ‘better than yesterday.’  We don’t remember how if felt to wake up feeling rested or to have all kinds of energy at the end of the day.  We hear all those platitudes like “nothing tastes as good as being thin feels!” but they don’t mean anything to us because we don’t remember how if felt being thin (some of us were never thin!) Feeling good, feeling rested, having energy: those are the benefits of not trying to lie to our bodies.  When we learn to listen to our bodies instead of trying to lie to them about what we are or aren’t eating, they reward us.  It’s not a “sweet treat” we get but a healthy feeling that lasts all day instead of just a minute or two. The best thing about listening to your body is that great feeling doesn’t go away: it just keeps going on and on until one day, we don’t remember how bad we felt before. That’s the real truth and all those foods we thought were ‘worth it’? That’s the real lie.

 

 

Little Things, Big Things: Weight Loss & What Matters

We’ve all said it: “this one little thing won’t matter!” In most cases, you are right: that extra bite of the bagel isn’t going to send your diet careening off the cliff, but how many of those “little things” do we eat during the day, or the week?

To put it in perspective, remember the last time you broke a twenty dollar bill to buy something that was only a couple dollars? That left you with $18 in your pocket, probably in ones, a five and a ten.  Later that week, you opened up your wallet to pay for your coffee and discovered there were only three dollars in there: what happened to the rest of my money? It all went to “little things!”  This is why most of hate breaking a large bill: it’s too easy to spend the small change without thinking about it!

We do this with time also: it’s not that we spend hours and hours on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, but we spend 15 minutes here; 20 minutes there and then a few more minutes at lunch and then while we are at the gym or waiting in line for coffee, and by the end of the week, your phone tells you that you spent 12 hours online that week– and that is just your phone! How much time are you spending on the tablet or the laptop?

It never feels like we spend 12 hours a week online or that we spend $50 on coffee a week, but when we look at the actual numbers, that’s what it comes out to.  My phone adds up how much time I spend online, my bank statement shows me how much I spent on coffee but each time, it feels like “these few minutes won’t matter” and “it’s just one grande latte– it won’t matter!”

Yes, they DO matter! Our time gets wasted in minutes; our money gets wasted dollar by dollar and our weight loss gets eroded bite by seemingly inconsequential bite! That’s the bad news; the good news isn’t that we have to turn into Diet Nazis and never eat anything that isn’t 100% in line with our weight loss goals. We just need to make sure our habit isn’t telling ourselves “this one thing won’t matter!”

It sounds simple but it’s that mindset that lures us into the “Doesn’t Matter” habit.  We try hard not to be that Diet Nazi but then we lean too far the other way.  It’s that same pattern that leads us to spending all our loose change and all those extra minutes online. We need to keep our focus: what are we spending our money on? where are we spending our time? what are we eating and drinking?

One simple way to keep track is to whip out that phone and take a picture. We do it for Instagram or Facebook so why not do it for ourselves? We don’t have to keep them forever, but at the end of the day, it’s a pretty good reminder of how many of those ‘little things’ we actually ate. It can be surprising! There was one woman who started putting all those ‘little things’ she would normally eat at work into a gallon sized ziplock bag and at the end of the day, the bag was nearly full! She hadn’t eaten an entire cake or box of cookies: the just the calorie equivalent in little bites!

Instead of telling ourselves that “one little thing doesn’t matter,” we need to start asking ourselves “what else have I had today?” Even better, we can just tell ourselves “not today.” We don’t need to track everything we eat and drink, although that’s not a bad idea, but getting into the habit of pausing before we give ourselves permission is a great way to start! It works with money and time too! Instead of just reaching into your pocket or clicking on the app, pause for a moment. Take a look at the money in your wallet or put your phone in a drawer: it’s amazing how much money, time and calories you can save when we take stock. Besides, when you finally sit down to enjoy that online time, shopping or special treat, you can focus on how much you really enjoy it!

 

The Insidious Snack: Weight Loss, What You Eat & WHEN You Eat

In his book The Obesity Code, Dr. Jason Fung refers to “the insidious snack” in chapter 11.  As a nephrologist (kidney doctor), most of Dr. Fung’s patients are diabetics and usually obese, which sparked his research and subsequent books on the subjects of obesity and diabetes.  After indepth research and years of treating his patients, Dr. Fung has come to a few conclusions: the major cause of obesity, diabetes and weight gain is insulin resistance and the two driving forces behind insulin resistance are diet and meal timing.

Insulin resistance is what happens when we always have insulin (a storage hormone) in our blood stream. We eat something; our digestive tract turns the food into glucose, amino acids and fatty acids which flood our blood stream and our body releases insulin to put the glucose into storage as fat.  When we are insulin resistant, our cells are resistant to letting in the insulin with its attached glucose for storage, so our body has to release more insulin to do the same job as before. The more insulin we have in our blood stream, the more we need to release to keep doing the same job and the longer it takes to clear the glucose and insulin from our blood. Say you are sweeping up a handful of sand from the floor.  If your broom has tight bristles, it only takes a few sweeps to get up the sand, but if your broom has gaps in the bristles or they are frayed and loose, it will take twice as many sweeps to get up that same handful of sand.  It takes longer and isn’t as effective, so you keep sweeping up what was missed.  This is what happens with glucose and insulin when we are insulin resistant.

Insulin resistance happens over time and it isn’t something that ‘happens’ to us like an illness or an accident: we make ourselves insulin resistant through our food choices and eating habits. In the last fifty-plus years, we’ve been encouraged to eat more ‘healthy whole grains’ and processed foods and we’ve been encouraged to eat more often.  These are the two chief causes of insulin resistance and its metabolic companions, obesity and diabetes. Refined carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cereals and other grains, along with sugar, are the major offenders when it comes to blood sugar and insulin.  Eating a bagel for breakfast will cause a bigger spike in our blood glucose which means more insulin is released into our blood stream than if we had eaten scrambled eggs instead. That means it takes longer to clear the glucose and insulin and return to fasting (non-eating) levels.

Refined carbohydrates aren’t a new invention but snack foods are. In the past, snacking between meals was discouraged and there certainly wasn’t a class of food made just for snacking! In the late 1970’s, food companies started encouraging people (and kids especially) to eat between meals.  Snack cakes, snack crackers, snack packs of pudding and other snack foods fill up grocery store aisles and most gas station mini-marts are dedicated almost entirely to these snack items. Most of these foods are sugar-rich or made up of refined carbohydrates but what’s worse is that we are encouraged to eat them at any time of day!

Some health care professionals promote eating every two to three hours to “boost our metabolism.” In short, eating more often supposedly ‘revs up’ our metabolism so we lose more weight. So, ‘Eat More, Lose Weight’? Not likely! While eating briefly speeds up our metabolism to digest the food we ate, the increase is negligible compared to the extra calories and the insulin resistance which results from the continued snacking! All those times we told ourselves that this one little snack won’t hurt us? Wrong!

Remember when I said insulin is a storage hormone? That means you can’t burn fat (lose weight) while insulin is in the blood and every time we eat, we release insulin so the insulin never has a chance to clear because we are always eating! When we are insulin resistant, it takes even longer to clear, so if we eat every two to three hours, when are we able to burn fat? That would be never! So we keep on gaining weight and becoming more and more insulin resistant until we become diabetic and our metabolic problems continue to multiply.

Before the obesity epidemic arose in the early 1980’s, people ate refined carbs and cereals but other than lower sugar consumption, this idea of snacking is the biggest change in eating habits. People ate breakfast, lunch and dinner and nothing in between.  That meant that for several hours in between meals and during the night, insulin wasn’t circulating in their blood stream.  They ate meals, including refined carbs, and then they stopped eating for hours until the next meal.  That meant insulin was released, cleared the glucose and went away until the next meal. They didn’t become insulin resistant because they weren’t constantly exposed to insulin even when they did eat sugar or refined carbs.

In several of his books, including The Obesity Code and The Diabetes Code, Dr. Fung recommends fasting to counteract insulin resistance.  He also deals with some of the misconceptions that come with the idea of going without food for a prolonged period of time in his book The Complete Guide to Fasting. This doesn’t mean that you have to starve yourself for days or weeks to lose weight. It does mean that we should stop eating between meals and if you aren’t hungry at breakfast or lunchtime, then don’t eat. Skipping a few meals if we aren’t hungry or are too busy to eat isn’t going to hurt us and will improve our insulin resistance and for goodness’ sake, put down that insidious snack!

Cheap Eats?: Weight Loss & The Real Meaning of Cheap

Sometimes when I’m in the mood, I will watch cooking shows on PBS, usually Martha Stewart Cooking Class or America’s Test Kitchen. The idea that I would attempt to make anything they demonstrate is absolutely laughable, partly because it’s usually far too complex for me but also because some of Martha’s ingredients are more than a little pricey! Also, where the heck am I supposed to find candied lemon rind in my podunk town?

While America’s Test Kitchen’s recipes are still too involved for me, they will let us know where we can skip a step or what we can use in place of a more pricey or hard to find ingredient without seriously bungling the recipe. When you go through all the steps to put together some of these recipes, the last thing you want to do is waste all that time and money!

Time and money are usually the biggest excuses when it comes to eating healthy. We have this idea that making healthy food is complicated and expensive, but in reality, it’s like anything else: we can make it as hard or as simple as we want it to be.

Example: my dad and I both love home-made enchiladas but making them the way my grandmother made them was an all-day job, so I figured out a quicker way to do without too much difference.  Granted, they weren’t quite as delicious as my grandmother’s, but they only took about an hour or so to do and it was good enough for us two!

I know from experience that we can google healthy whole food recipes that will take all day and require a long list of ingredients, some of them more than you want to spend on a weeknight dinner. Whether you are looking at dinner for one or two or even a family of four or more, a cart full of healthy whole food groceries starts looking more like a major investment!

I’ve seen the “it costs too much” excuse used a lot on My 600 lb Life.  Rather than buy whole food groceries, they run through the drive-thru. Listening to what they order, the cost of that fast food meal can run from $10 to $30 (for two). That’s not particularly cheap either! My groceries routinely include a $5 box of salad greens, bottle of salad dressing ($4) and package of meat which usually runs around $6.  The box of salad will last me at least five meals; the salad dressing about 10 meals and the meat at least two.  That means if I increase the meat for another three servings, I’ve got dinner for about five days which would run me about $24. That’s less than five dollars a meal! Yikes! That’s expensive–NOT!

What’s the real difference here? I had to make the dinner myself. That means I took out the skillet, put the meat on to cook, cooked it for about twenty minutes or so and then I dumped out the salad greens into a bowl and poured on some dressing.  Dinner usually takes me 30 minutes or less to make at home.  Granted, I eat pretty simply.  If I added some other veggies to my salad, it would obviously cost more, but even adding a few tomatoes, radishes, mushrooms or cucumbers, the cost per meal might go up as high as $7 dollars a meal! (Seriously, how many cucumbers do you put on a single salad?)

I eat pretty cheaply mainly because I like simple food (see that Martha Stewart remark above!) I get the box of salad greens because it’s cheap and it’ll last me until Friday.  I buy my meat in the Manager’s Special section of the meat department.  This is the meat that has a “best by” date in the coming week, so it’s been discounted by 30-50%. Since I either eat it or freeze it by the date, it’s no problem for me! Sometimes, I do spring for the tomatoes, mushrooms or avocados on my salad, or I opt for Brussels sprouts instead but the cost still isn’t exorbitant. Even if the meat isn’t ‘grass fed’ or ‘organic’ it is still fresh and even organic grass fed meat isn’t much more expensive than the ‘regular’ stuff if you know where to shop. (I like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts for good bargains on those!)

There is also something else that usually gets missed in comparing cheap eats and whole foods. How much of them do you eat in one sitting? One of the more interesting details about human anatomy is our satiety signals in our digestive tract. These are the hormones our bodies release to let us know that we have eaten enough. We have signals for protein, fat and fiber but none for carbohydrates.  That’s why I can eat half a bag of Brussels sprouts and feel like I can’t choke down another bite but could easily eat the family sized bag of Ruffles potato chips without even slowing down. Unfortunately, the only “sensor” we have that we’ve eaten too much ice cream, chips, crackers or cupcakes is the actual discomfort that comes from an overstuffed stomach! I am way too familiar with that one!

The Cheezits, chips, bread and rolls might seem cheaper but we don’t stop to think that we finish them off way more quickly than we do the whole foods. That box of salad greens isn’t any bigger ounce-wise than that family size bag of chips I used to polish off in one or two sittings, but there’s no way I can eat the whole box of spinach and butter lettuce at one go without throwing up! That’s because those whole foods aren’t just more ‘nutrient dense’– they are just plain dense! Let’s compare that bag of Brussels sprouts to that bag of Ruffles potato chips: The sprouts are 10.8 oz (Birdseye Steamfresh) and the chips are 9.5 (Ruffles Family Size).  There’s four 3/4 cup servings in the sprouts and ten in the bag of chips ( ~1 oz) but seriously do we only eat one ounce of chips at a time? Although they are about the same size, after eating about a cup and a half of sprouts, you would be getting the “stop eating” signal because your nutrition needs would be met. How long before your brain would tell you to stop eating the chips? Odds are, you’d be probably three fourths of the way through the bag before your stomach would be feeling full, and if you are me, you’d be polishing off the bag!

Honestly though, there are things that are missing from the sprouts: like preservatives, sodium and extra carbs, plus the vegetable oils that are fast coming under scrutiny. On the other hand, they do have lots more vitamins and fiber (that’s the stuff that makes you feel full!) I know for a lot of people, foods like sprouts, salad greens and other whole foods can taste pretty blah without all kinds of sauces to ‘dress them up.’ That’s because we have gotten so used to eating those additives and flavor enhancers in processed foods.  Those are the additives that don’t actually have to be made from food to be called “all natural.” Most pre-shredded cheeses have cellulose added to them to keep the cheese from sticking together.  Cellulose comes from wood pulp but because it comes from trees, they can call it “all natural.” Yummy!

It’s all a matter of taste and budget: you don’t have to eat as simply as I do, but think about what you are really buying. What is really in that burger and fries you ordered? It might be fast and it might be convenient, but what is the real price we pay for cheap eats?

 

 

No Regrets!: Thanksgiving & Weight Loss

Most of us who are trying to lose weight quake in our shoes when we think of Thanksgiving dinner. We envision a table loaded with as much food as we can crowd onto the surface and the usual plan for the day is eating ourselves into a coma.  At least that’s the stereotype and even if we don’t eat everything in sight, most of us trying to lose weight go to bed Thanksgiving night feeling pretty miserable about how much we ate that day.

I have been pretty blessed with my family holiday get-togethers.  While we had at least a couple tables full of food, desserts and appetizers (and more in the kitchen), long before I started this weight loss journey, I learned that holidays and family celebrations weren’t about the food: they were about the family.  I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true.  Yes, there were family members who brought some great food that I only got to eat when there was a family gathering, but that wasn’t the point of getting together.

Our family gatherings were always held at my grandparents’ home (now my uncle’s) and we do pot-luck.  Everyone brings a dish and there are some that are prepared there the morning of the gathering (the meal is served at 1:00 p.m. – you snooze, you lose!) Most of the family would show up between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m.  I showed up at 11:00 a.m. to help set the table and help my aunt and grandmother finish up what needed to be finished, but my real purpose in showing up early was that I got to spend that time with them! That was the big draw in getting there early: I got to talk to them without a houseful of family vying for their attention! I got to chat with my grandparents, my uncle, my dad when there wasn’t a crowd I had to shout over.

By the time everything is ready, my aunt, uncle and I had been hard at cooking and prepping for at least an hour and a half. The meal is served buffet-style (we usually had about forty people) and so everyone serves themselves and finds a place to sit and eat.  Usually we would have to refill some serving bowls before everyone got through the line just once so, again, that would be a job for me and my aunt.  Have you ever wondered how people who work around delicious food don’t weigh a 1000 lbs? It’s easy: by the time you’ve mashed it, stirred it, simmered it, poured it, spooned it and served it, it’s not so yummy anymore and believe me, the last thing you want to do is eat it!  My aunt and I would usually get through the buffet at the tail end of the line while others are going back for seconds.  It’s not that we don’t like the food: it’s that we’re a little tired and we really want to sit down and not look at food!

While there were a lot of family gatherings and holidays where I definitely overate, they were not the norm for me.  I was (and still am) more likely to overeat at home alone.  At holidays, by the time everyone had eaten and we’d cleared the table, it was time for dessert and we went through a shortened version of the midday meal.  My aunt and I were usually more focused on getting everything on and off the table in a timely efficient manner and getting the dishes done (no dishwasher at Grandma’s!) While we managed to get something to eat and even some dessert, eating wasn’t the focus of the holiday!

I realize there are always a lot of temptations at Thanksgiving. For me, the biggest temptation aside from the actual turkey are my cousin’s homemade enchiladas. (We’re Mexican, so in addition to the traditional Thanksgiving fixings, there’s beans, enchiladas and Grandpa’s chili.)  There’s also my aunt’s homemade macaroni salad and the chili.  Because I only get these at family gatherings, it’s always tempting to eat more of those foods than is really good for me, so I have to remind myself that there is a saturation point.  This is the point where I get enough that I feel satisfied but don’t feel that I overdid it.  We all know that point: that’s the usual feeling we get when we go to bed regretting how much we ate! The trick for me has always been to serve myself a spoonful or two of the foods I really want to eat.  I don’t have to eat a little of everything, so my plate usually only has the foods I really love on it.  Yes, I like mashed potatoes, especially those from scratch, and I like stuffing too, but even homemade mashed potatoes are still pretty run of the mill and unless my cousin made the stuffing, I don’t need to eat either of those! When I finally sit down to eat, my plate pretty much has only the foods I mentioned above: turkey, my aunt’s salad, a half an enchilada and some chili, usually a spoonful or so of each and that’s my Thanksgiving dinner!

When it comes to dessert, I follow the same method.  If there is something that looks really great or is homemade (one of my cousins is a pastry chef), then I’ll have a small piece of that, but grocery store pie? Usually not. Again, I remind myself that I don’t need to eat something just because it’s there or it’s been offered to me.

I also make a point of reminding myself that if I’m not hungry, I don’t need to eat.  Most of us eat according to the clock or the availability of food.  “It’s dinnertime so I have to eat.” “The food is on the table, so it’s time to eat.” “They offered it to me and if I don’t eat it, I’m being rude.”  I know I’ve told myself those statements more times than I can count! But we only need to eat when our body is legitimately hungry, and I use the word ‘legitimately’ for a reason.  Our body can trick us into thinking we are hungry.  I usually ‘feel hungry’ around 3:30 because that’s usually when I will stop and get a coffee or a snack on my way home, so my body reminds me: 3:30- time to eat! This happens no matter if I’ve had lunch, had a late lunch, or skipped lunch! My body thinks 3:30 is “eating time!”

The other thing that happens to a lot of us is we smell food and our stomach starts rumbling: time to eat! This is a normal biological function: the smell of the food literally starts the digestive juices flowing and our stomach and mouth prepare themselves to digest what we’re smelling.  At Thanksgiving dinner, pretty much most houses are going to be smelling like all kinds of food all day long! Even though our stomachs are growling, we need to remind ourselves of what we just ate!

For me, one thing that definitely keeps me from constantly nibbling or going back for seconds is to walk away from the fully loaded table.  Spending time talking with family I haven’t seen in a while means I can’t eat while I’m talking.  I also can’t eat while doing the dishes! Think of it this way: if you are busy cleaning up, not only will you be a big hit with your aunts, grandmother, mom and the rest of the clean up crew, you’ll also be saving a lot of calories you don’t need to eat! This Thanksgiving, go to bed with no regrets: make sure you spend your time with the people in your life you are thankful for.  You’ve got the rest of your life to eat turkey and pumpkin pie.

Responsible Holiday Partying: Weight Loss & Holiday Temptations

Responsibility stinks.  There is something liberating about abdicating responsibility.  When you are not responsible for an action or a behavior, it allows you to act with impunity because “nothing is your fault.”  This is especially true when it comes to dieting and weight loss.  When you show up for that holiday gathering and everything offered to eat is full of calories, sugar, fat or carbs, what are supposed to do? You have to eat it! There’s no choice! It’s not your fault! That’s a wonderfully liberating feeling: you can eat without guilt!

Except….you really do have a choice.  You can say “no thank you” and not eat what is offered, or you can eat only a little of the healthiest options so as not to appear rude.  Holiday gatherings are always the hardest for those of us working to lose weight.  A lot of us choose to deal with these kinds of parties as Cheat Days. We essentially give ourselves permission to eat the way we want to eat when we’re out at a holiday event. We know there are going to be all kinds of treats of special foods and we aren’t going to be able to resist anyway, so we might as well eat them and enjoy them! “It’s a Cheat Day!”

Those of us who been down this road before know that while it looks good, it’s really a trap. The Holiday Season runs pretty much from October through January where I am and it’s usually full of potential Cheat Days: there’s the Halloween parties; there’s the Thanksgiving meals; there’s Christmas and Hanukkah parties, and then there’s the big New Year’s Eve bash.  Everyone everywhere is celebrating something and then there’s all the holiday treats that make it into the office and your home. Consumable gifts are very common, so there’s cookies, chocolates, cupcakes, candies and liquor going back and forth.  They’re there in the office break room, just calling to you! And we all know how it starts: “one won’t hurt!”

The temptation to abdicate responsibility is there: those sugary coffee drinks/ cupcakes/ cookies/ muffins are irresistible! “It’s only for the holidays! I’m allowed to celebrate, right?” Except we end up celebrating ourselves back into our “fat pants” and by New Year’s, we are resolving to lose those Christmas pounds we put back on! As a result, we end up starting the New Year feeling depressed, as if all the hard work we put in during the spring and summer was completely undone by the Holiday Season because, well, it was undone by holiday eating!

This is the Most Dangerous Time of the Year when it comes to weight loss because of the built-in excuses: we can’t keep resisting the temptation of all these delicious seasonal treats and we’re allowed to celebrate, aren’t we? Yes, we can ‘celebrate’ as much as we want to but at the risk of being a real Scrooge here, we don’t have to eat the cookies to have a good time at the party.

I admit I am a confirmed caffeine addict and this time of year, Starbucks is full of their ‘holiday beverages.’  Two of my favorites are the Eggnog Latte and the Chestnut Praline Latte, both of which are chock-full of calories and sugar! I love those things, but I discovered that I love them more when I don’t have them all the time. Usually, I have between two and four of them during the holiday season and I tend to reserve them for times when I am celebrating with friends.  Yes, I choose to celebrate by indulging in a rare holiday coffee beverage when I am out with friends, but I am just as likely to choose not to have one too.  My friends don’t know or care if I have the seasonal coffee drinks or not, and if we are having a bigger meal than usual later on, I might want to adjust my calories accordingly.  The point of getting together with my friends is to socialize, not stuff myself full of fat and sugar.

I know how tempting it is to give in and have something unusual and decadent! Some of these seasonal treats look amazing and I have tried a few of them. In my experience, most of them look better than they taste! A few years ago, I gave in and had a snowman cookie. While it looked yummy, it wasn’t. It was a bland overly sweet sugar cookie– tasteless in my opinion.  Cute and seasonal, yes; worth the sugar and calories? Definitely not! (I’d have done better to save those calories for an Eggnog Latte– that would have been worth it!)

We don’t have to Scrooge to lose weight in the holidays but we do need to take a page from his book and keep an eye on where we are spending our calories. I know there are people who scoff at calorie counting and while we don’t need to count every olive and nut we put in our mouths, we do need to keep an eye on the bigger picture! Having a cookie isn’t off limits but maybe we can cap the cookie count at two? The same is true for the parties and events: we don’t have to turn down the invitations but maybe it might be a good idea to decide which ones we are really going to eat at and which ones we’re going to do more hors d’oeurves, which ones we’re going to choose to have alcohol and which ones are going to be alcohol-free.

This is the time to celebrate and enjoy the company of family and friends. We don’t have to resist all the treats and temptations as long as we remember we are responsible for what we choose to eat.  Sometimes it really does help to remember all the hard work we’ve done during the year.  It took a long time to lose the weight we’ve lost so far.  Do we really want to put it all back on because we don’t want to pass on the snowman cookies?

 

The Weight Loss Guarantee No One Talks About

When we see commercials for weight loss or fitness programs, they almost always have some kind of 30 day or six week guarantee.  You follow their program for the requisite number of days, and “if you don’t lose weight/ inches, we’ll refund your money!” Of course, there is always the caveat that “you WILL lose weight/ inches” because you’ll be following their program (yeahhhhh, riiiighht!) but no one ever guarantees that you’ll keep the weight off and won’t have to do this again.

There is one guaranteed method of losing weight and keeping it off, but no one likes to talk about it.  It’s not glamorous or ‘trending’ or novel.  It’s Consistency. We all know about it but we hate doing it, so most of us don’t!  We know we should eat more veggies and less processed/ packaged foods, but.…. We know we should avoid the sweets, the carbs, the treats that aren’t good for us, but……one won’t hurt, right??  We make exception after exception because it’s So & So’s birthday/ anniversary/ celebration etc.  Then it’s a holiday or another special occasion or a ‘special’ treat so we cram those treats down even though they’re # 10 or more on our list of ‘exceptions.’  Then we wonder how we got so far off-track or why we stopped making progress or how we managed to gain X amount of pounds when we haven’t eaten ‘that much!’  This is the first sign that we’ve become Inconsistent: we stop making progress, i.e. losing weight!

Then comes the second consequence of Inconsistency: “why is it so hard to resist temptation??” Because we have taught ourselves that we can eat whatever we want! Yes: we have taught ourselves this bad habit! It might be nice to blame all those people who had birthdays or brought cookies or shared candy or other treats but they didn’t make you eat them! Even if they pushed them at you with the “one won’t hurt” excuse, you were still free to say firmly but politely: “no thank you.” It also wouldn’t have been out of line to give the brief explanation: “they’re not good for me.”  But we didn’t say that, did we? We said “thanks!” and helped ourselves! ……And now here we are, our progress stalled or erased and we are once more struggling with cravings and temptations that we really want to give in to, when just a few months ago, we would hardly have noticed that the grocery store has that great bread from that restaurant chain or that the Peanut Butter M&M’s are on sale for Halloween.

This is where most people just tune out because no one wants to hear that it’s our own fault and that staying Consistent would have bypassed these issues entirely! We don’t want to be Consistent because it’s BORRR–INNNNGGG!! Eating nutritious healthy low calorie food every day is just so old and tired! I’m tired of eating healthy food that helps me lose weight! I want to eat all the cookies and bread and sugar that makes me feel like crap and makes me gain back all the weight! Of course, we don’t actually say that to ourselves but it’s still the truth.  We lie to ourselves by making the ‘celebration’ excuse or the ‘one won’t hurt’ excuse, but at the end of the day, the truth is that most of these treats that we want to eat don’t make us feel good, they get in the way of our reaching our goals, and they make it harder for us to resist temptation.  But they were yummy, right?

“Eh…they were okay….” This is also usually the truth.  Most of the time, these treats aren’t as good as we remember them being and even if they are good, they last only as long as it takes to eat them: about a minute or so.  Was that minute worth the cravings and sacrificing your progress?  Add all those minutes up and weigh them against feeling cruddy, gaining weight and fighting temptation: worth it? Yes or no?

I can only answer for myself: NO, they weren’t worth it.  Some were good (bread is nearly always yummy for me!) but at the same time, I know what happens to me when I eat bread: I retain water like a freakin’ sponge, my hunger shoots through the roof about an hour after eating it and the next day, my hands hurt.  Nothing like a pin-through-your-thumb-joint kind of pain to get your attention and remind you “Yep! You chose to eat that bread!” As much as I love bread, it’s not worth the ‘hangover’ I have to suffer through for the next couple of days or so until the grains and carbs get cleared from my body.

But is Consistency really boring?  Not unless we make it boring!  For most of us, there are a lot of foods on that healthy and nutritious list, but we either don’t want to make them or we just crave novelty. Right now, there are dozens of new books hitting the stores almost every day full of delicious, low calorie healthy recipes and, if you don’t want to buy a book, the same kinds of recipes are available for free on Instagram, Facebook, websites and blogs! All you have to do is Google!  You can eat something different that’s healthy, low calorie, low carb and unprocessed every day if you choose to do the work! (FYI: I Googled for you & there are links below!)

Myself, I choose not to do that much work with cooking! It’s too much of a hassle for me and I am seriously happy with much more simple recipes like “fried hamburger.”  I am also just as happy with steamed veggies, tossed salad and –whoa!– sweet potato fries! (Those last almost qualify as ‘a hassle’ for me!) But those are the kinds of foods I like to eat, and if I get bored, I can change it up by getting roasted chicken or simply switching to another protein that I enjoy such as pork, lamb or even an omelette.  The same is true with the vegetables: if I get bored with one, just switch to another! It sounds simple and it is! I don’t have to choose between Mexican or Chinese or Indian food in order to eat what I like, and even among those foods, there are still dishes I can enjoy that meet my guidelines.  Last week I met friends at a Mexican restaurant and had chicken caseras: grilled chicken on a bed of shredded cabbage and onions with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo– and it was really really good! Even more importantly, after enjoying something different and delicious, I didn’t feel cruddy afterwards!

Also as a bonus, how hard would it be for me to make something like that at home? It’s something even I could do: get a bag of shredded cabbage, chop an onion, chop up some rotisserie chicken breast and mix it up with some fresh pico, sour cream and guacamole! Yummy, healthy and– most shocking of all– it’s Consistent with my goals! I can eat something like this every week or every day and stay Consistent with my weight loss, health and nutrition goals! How boring is Consistency from this viewpoint?

What happens with most of us (me included) is we get stuck in a rut.  It’s easy to fill the fridge with rotisserie chicken and bagged veggies so we forget that there’s a whole array of foods and recipes that are available to us. In that situation, yes, Consistency is boring, but it doesn’t have to be! We don’t know what to look for or we get lazy and rather than try to find something new that stays within our eating guidelines, we go back to what we used to eat.  The problem is the way we used to eat is what caused us to gain weight and feel cruddy all the time.  We call it a treat or a special occasion but all we are treating ourselves to is failed goals, a blood sugar roller coaster, weight gain and added aches and pains.  Personally, I don’t think of any of those things as “treats!”

Food For Thought

Nom Nom Paleo

Paleo Leap

Primal Potential

Eating Clean

 

 

Party Time!: Weight Loss & the Socialization of Food

When we think about food, we tend to focus on what it is and the calories involved rather than what it means to us, but it is the meaning behind the food that is usually what’s driving us to eat.  Food has psychological and social meanings to us.  When we think “cake” we tend to think “celebration.”  When we think about consolation or solace, it’s usually things like “ice cream” or “chocolate.” Or if it’s just plain comfort, it can be something warm and hearty like “soup” or “mac & cheese.” For me, even today, “enchiladas” means family holidays and gatherings. My mom said the word to me and instantly I envisioned my grandma’s house with a laden dining room table!  We’ve begun to think of the food itself as the actual event. How can we have a birthday without cake? What kind of Thanksgiving doesn’t have stuffing and pumpkin pie? We can’t watch a football game without beer and nachos any more than we can envision New Year’s Eve without champagne or alcohol.  For us, the FOOD has become the EVENT!

Our brains know that’s not the case, but somewhere in our psyche, the two have become almost inseparable.  We’ve convinced ourselves that if we don’t have “THE” food associated with whatever event is taking place, then we’ve missed out on the actual event.  How can we go out with friends without having drinks? How can we celebrate Fourth of July without hot dogs, burgers or beer? Hanging out with friends doesn’t require alcohol any more than the fireworks and parades on July 4th need burgers and beer in order to take place. While it seems like it’s easy to disentangle the food and drinks from the celebration or holiday, it’s only easy on a physical level.  Anyone can show up at Thanksgiving and not eat the pie and stuffing just like no one is going to shove cake and ice cream into your mouth at your granny’s birthday party.  You can attend the events without being forced to eat everything that’s there, but our psyches don’t understand that.

Our minds– not our brains–have intertwined eating with celebrating, so while you can go to a family holiday and not eat the pie, the enchiladas or the stuffing and the cake, your mind is not only telling you that you missed out on all the yummy goodies, it is telling you that you missed the big celebration because it “doesn’t feel right.”  You may have brought a gift, given Granny a big birthday hug and sang “Happy Birthday” as she blew out the candles, but because you didn’t have a piece of her cake, you “missed the birthday.”  Logically, our brains roll their inner eyes and shake their figurative heads at this foolishness, but our minds are confused: something is missing! It doesn’t feel like a birthday party!

Obviously, part of this comes from changing our routines (not eating all the stuff you normally eat) and part of it is our own awkwardness at being seen as different from the others.  Since we didn’t “do like everyone else did,” we feel like we are standing out like a sore thumb and “everyone” must have noticed that we said no to the beer, the birthday cake or whatever is being served.  Somehow, it makes hanging out with friends feel less like socializing and more like an ordeal.  Saying no to the beer, appetizers or cake can feel rude, almost as if you need to explain why you aren’t joining in with everyone else.

Normally, this is where I would just be a b*tch about it and tell you to tell everyone else that what you eat or drink is not their business, but when Granny offers you a piece of her birthday cake, you really can’t tell her to mind her own business (especially on her birthday!) In all honesty, if most of your friends ask why you said no to the fried calamari or fried cheese, tell them the truth: you are trying to eat healthier; you are saving your calories for the entree (or dessert or whatever); or that you aren’t hungry.  Your friends might tease you about “going healthy” on them, but they should support your decision to improve your health.  (They are your friends and want you around for a long while!)

The same thing is true with family and Granny.  Even if they do push you to have a piece of cake (“One slice won’t hurt you!”), it’s up to you how much you want to push back.  Granny may not understand that the sugar-carb combo will completely jack your blood sugar but if telling her “no thanks” is going to be traumatic for you or her, then discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.  Most of your family will support your decision to be healthier even if it does feel a little awkward at times. I was fortunately blessed with a family of such different eaters that not eating the carbs was barely noticed at my  family gatherings and when it was noticed, the exchange went something like this: “did you want any rice?” “No thanks.” “Okay,”(sets the bowl of rice on the table).

Changing your ‘celebration routine’ takes practice.  I know no one likes to hear this but the more you practice, the easier it gets. Giving in to the cake, the appetizers, the alcohol or the carbs might make you feel like you ‘celebrated’ the occasion, but it also sets you back from your goals.  Is that really what you want? There were reasons you chose to eat healthier.  For most of us, those included feeling better physically and mentally. improving your health and generally living better longer.  When we deviate from our weight loss and nutrition plan to ‘join in’ at the movies with popcorn and candy, we not only delayed our progress, but we make ourselves feel worse overall. We feel guilty for eating the foods that aren’t good for us and for some of us, we feel worse physically. That sugar-carb combo is going to spike your blood sugar and then dump it way below your baseline, so that mood-energy roller coaster is going to do you any good! Once we get home, we start feeling the physical effects of eating the foods that aren’t good for us and we feel the emotional effects as well: those feelings of guilt and failure.  We’ve also made it harder for us to say no to those foods and our friends the next time this happens!

Virtue is its own reward, which is a fancy way of saying that when you say no thanks, you’ll feel better about it in the long run. Being upfront with family and friends is the simplest way to handle these situation. “That doesn’t agree with me” or “that makes me feel tired/ wired/ bloated/ [insert adjective here]” are the easiest and most truthful explanations. In an age when everyone is gluten-free,  lactose-intolerant, or just plain allergic, most people won’t question your choices.  The more you change how you think about socialization and food, the easier it is to stay with the changes and keep eating healthy even at a party.  The food is part of the fun, yes, but it’s not the purpose of the party. Aren’t you really there to spend time with Granny?

It Really IS About What Goes In Your Mouth!: Weight Loss, Food & Nutrition

I recently watched a rerun of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now? featuring an update on one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s most challenging patients, James K.  Like most of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, James grew up struggling with obesity and by the time he was in his ’30’s he was already over 500 lbs.  That’s when a leg injury left him bed-bound and he has not walked since that injury.  Unfortunately, being bed-bound has added to his weight gain and by the time we meet him in his initial episode, James estimates his weight at around 700 lbs. Speaking with James via computer, Dr. Nowzaradan gave him the basic diet he gives to all of his patients (1200 calories a day and no carbs) and advised him to begin losing weight immediately.

Getting to Houston to meet with Dr. Now was a struggle in itself as James needed a bariatric ambulance to take him from Kentucky to Texas and his insurance would not cover the cost.  James’ father ended up financing the transportation, but once in Texas with his daughter and girlfriend Lisa, he continued to struggle with the diet.  After four months in Kentucky, James arrived in Houston weighing 738 lbs. Dr. Now admitted him to the hospital to begin running tests and to put him on a controlled diet to get his weight down.  Unfortunately, after losing over 100 lbs in the hospital, James moved to his apartment to continue losing on his own, but what followed was the beginning of a vicious cycle of weight gain followed by hospitalization and controlled weight loss only to regain again at home.  Despite Dr. Now’s warnings regarding his deteriorating health, James and Lisa were unable to control his eating and he continued to gain weight. His constant gaining was followed by heart problems, kidney problems, and cellulitis infections in his legs.  After one arrival at the hospital, James and Lisa are shocked to learn that he’s at 843 lbs.

From the outside, it’d be easy to say “what the heck is wrong with you two?!” but they were as mystified as Dr. Now was frustrated.  Despite his repeated attempts to explain to them what they are doing wrong, they remained as confused and frustrated as Dr. Nowzaradan.  Obviously, something was going wrong, but they could not understand what it was.

Quite simply, it was the food. I know you are thinking “no sh*t, Sherlock!” right now, but for James and Lisa, it really was mystifying.  While they were obviously cheating on the diet more than they admitted, it wasn’t really the “cheat meals” that were causing the problems as much as it was all the other food he was also eating.  While I obviously wasn’t there with them and only know what I saw on the tv, I’ve got a pretty good guess as to some of the stumbling blocks tripping them up: 1) nutritional ignorance; 2) portion  distortion; and 3) cravings.

As a former Basic English instructor, I learned early on never to assume that people know “The Basics.” I remember going over a lesson on sentence construction, explaining how each sentence needs a subject consisting of a noun and a predicate consisting of a verb.  When I casually asked “does anyone have any questions?” I was promptly asked “what’s a noun?  Judging by the confused faces in the class, I gathered her question was echoed by most of my students. My carefully constructed lesson was pretty much wasted on them since I was essentially speaking gibberish!

I have a strong suspicion that this was part of the problem with James and Lisa.  While it’s one thing to pass out a diet plan with recommended and/ or ‘forbidden’ foods listed on it, it’s another entirely to learn to read nutrition labels or simply to identify what other foods should be included on that list of ‘forbidden foods.’  I remember a very long time ago when my dad’s doctor advised him to lower his sugar intake and my mom complained about his eating bread. I asked “what does bread have to do with how much sugar he eats?” At the time, I had no idea that bread (a starchy carbohydrate) is metabolized like sugar in the body.  In essence, a starchy carb like bread is viewed as a long string of sugars in the body. While it doesn’t look like sugar, technically our bodies turn it into sugar. It’s one thing to look at a slice of bread and think “starch” and see that one slice is allowed on the diet and it’s another thing to look at a bowl of brown rice and think it’s okay. If it’s not specifically mentioned on the diet plan, then where does that go? Is it allowed? Not allowed? For some people, it’s common sense but for others, it’s a mystery.  While those of us who’ve spent a lifetime eating off one diet plan or another know what to do, for those who have never ventured into “Diet World,” it’s literally foreign territory.  Having the doctor tell you “no carbs!” might as well have been “no finkerrupz!” for all the sense it makes to you. (Let’s not mention ‘total carbs’ vs ‘net carbs’!)

While some of you are rolling your eyes, let me remind you that we all start somewhere different when we begin this diet journey and even though a nutritionist may have been sent out to help James and Lisa learn more about food overall, not all nutritionists and/ or dieticians are created equal.  I remember my own dietician basically giving me a list of rules to follow (again regarding carbs) without ever asking me if I knew what a carbohydrate was! However, as a reader and an information-gatherer in general, when I started asking questions about nutrition, I decided that the internet (though convenient) wasn’t comprehensive enough for me and I went off to the bookstore and came home with Nutrition for Dummies.Nutrition for Dummies ) I am a big fan of the Dummies books because they assume you know nothing about the topic, so you can start at your own level.  I also realize that some people are offended when you suggest these books to them (“she called me a dummy!”)  Frankly, I have a large library of Dummies books because in my opinion, there’s a whole lotta stuff I don’t know crap about and pretending that I know more than I do is the only thing that really makes me a Dummy!

There’s also another pitfall that catches most people unawares: “I thought I knew what I was doing but I really didn’t!” This was my error when I was teaching sentence construction: I thought I was giving my students The Basics but it turned out it wasn’t basic enough! In short, I thought I knew where to start but I didn’t! Hospitals have also learned this lesson the hard way.  When patients arrive for a procedure, they make the patient explain to the nurse what’s going to happen to them.  This is the best way of making sure the patient understands what is really going to happen! I am sure James and Lisa thought he was following the diet and only cheating a little bit, when  in fact, he was probably cheating more than he wanted to admit and also eating foods that weren’t on the diet although they thought that they were.

Then there is the whole issue of portion size.  This is one of the reasons I recommend a food scale in the beginning at least (Ozeri Food Scale). When someone is used to eating a slice of cake that weighs in at a half-pound or a sandwich the size of a loaf of bread, they usually have no idea what an actual ‘portion’ looks like.  The idea that a sandwich consists of two regular slices of bread, 2 oz of meat and maybe one ounce of cheese is a real shock.  A hamburger patty really isn’t supposed to be one-third of a pound or more; it’s supposed to be about 3 oz! The same thing with a chicken breast or a piece of steak– about 3-4 oz is a ‘serving size.’  The general rule of thumb is that your protein is supposed to be about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand, not the size of your head!

It’s easy to jeer at someone weighing 700 -plus pounds who clearly doesn’t understand why he weighs so much, but the truth is that a lot of us are in the same boat.  The only difference is that while James can’t understand why he’s still over 700 lbs, we can’t figure out why we still can’t lose these same twenty pounds we’ve been trying to lose since college.  It’s usually that Terrible Trio I mentioned above: a combination of nutritional ignorance, portion distortion and cravings.  We think we are eating healthier foods in the right amounts but until we do a little investigating, we may not realize that while sweet potatoes and brown rice are better for us than white potatoes and white rice, they still have a lot of carbs and starch in them.  We also think that a serving is one whole sweet potato no matter the size or that we can eat twice as much brown rice as white rice. The truth is while we are eating healthier, we may not be eating healthy enough to lose the weight we want.

Cravings are another story entirely.  Everyone who’s tried to lose weight has fallen victim to this one, some of us more often than others.  It really doesn’t matter what the craving is for, either.  Whether it’s chocolate, bread, nuts or even something healthy like a salad, if we eat too much of it, it’s not good for us.  If it’s something not on our ‘recommended foods’ list, it only adds to the problem.  While it’s not usually a disaster when we give in to the cravings, we don’t often realize that giving in prolongs the problem.  In short, if you ‘indulge’ once a week, you begin to expect that indulgence and when you try to skip it after repeatedly giving in, it only makes it harder to resist.  For someone like James, who’s probably never resisted a temptation, the cravings can be unbearably difficult. For someone like Lisa who is used to giving him what he wants, the response is probably close to automatic: he wants it? he gets it.

Making the changes James and Lisa need to make to lose weight and improve his health likely requires more adjustments and education than they anticipated.  It means a complete restructuring of their home life and habits.  It not only means throwing out all the foods not on the diet, it means re-learning how to eat, how to buy food that’s healthy and how to think about what we eat. Like most of us, James thought he could out-exercise his cheating and bad food choices, but we all know we’d be jogging all day to ‘cancel out’ that burger and fries lunch or the pie or whatever ‘indulgence’ we had.  Losing weight permanently takes significant changes and these need to be permanent if our weight loss is to stay permanent.  That means re-thinking what’s normally on the menu and what’s not, what a real portion size is and what’s too much, and whether that slice of carrot cake is really worth it.  It means keeping an open mind about The Basics and even changing those Basics if need be.  It’s not an easy adjustment to make but when your quality of life depends on it, are you really going to trade that for carrot cake?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & Holiday Treats: Yummy or Not, Here They Come!

We are coming up on the holiday season, and after the Summer Swim Suit Season, this is probably the one that dieters hate most.  “OMG! There’s food EVERYWHERE!” And, it’s never very healthy food either.  It would be different if we had trays of roasted Brussels sprouts on every flat surface or people brought platters full of carrot sticks to share at work, but other than the occasional luncheon crudité platter that no one touches and eventually dries out, most of the holiday food is sweet and full of calories and carbs, but not a lot of anything nutritious.

This is where we feel super-self-conscious about turning down the proffered cookies or the pumpkin bread or anything else some tries to share with us.  We don’t want to be rude and we don’t want to feel like we’re making everyone else feel bad for eating them.  “He/she’s being so good and not eating any of these!”  At the risk of being Negative Nancy, you are not responsible for anyone’s guilt: if they feel guilty for eating the brownies and sugar cookie snowmen, that is their responsibility! (Those ‘treats’ aren’t any healthier for them than they are for you!) If they want to spend January and February losing those Holiday Pounds, that is their choice: you choose not to gain them!

The other danger with all these ‘treats’ is that most of them are just there for the mindless eating. We tend not to pay attention and just grab what’s next to us and eat it, whether it’s something we like or not. Frankly, I ate a lot of Twizzlers that way.  I don’t like Twizzlers and never have (they taste like bland sugary plastic to me.) If you give me a choice of licorice, I’d choose Red Vines (or black) every time! Twizzlers? Blecchh! But somehow, when there was nothing else left in the Halloween candy bowl, yup! I ate them! Why?? Ummm…. because they were there…..?? Yes. Really. That was the reason: they were there!  Even worse, while I was eating them, I would be thinking how they weren’t really good and how I wished they were really Red Vines, but that didn’t stop me from finishing off the bland plasticky Twizzlers! It really is mindless eating. While no one forced me to eat junk food I didn’t really like, the idea of saying no to them was utterly foreign to me.”You mean I can just throw them away? But that’s a waste of food!” As if there were anything nutritious about Twizzlers! (No offense to Twizzlers.)

The point of having a treat is to give yourself something a little special, as in doing something good for yourself.  Is stuffing your face full of blah run-of-the-mill sugar cookies doing something special for yourself? It’s like me with the Twizzlers! If I’d really wanted to treat myself to something I’d enjoy that wasn’t nutritious, I’d have gone to the grocery store and bought a package of the licorice I really do enjoy instead of eating “plastic candy.”  There are better ways of “treating” yourself than junk food but we tend not to think of them as real ‘treats.’  These can be real foods like apples, figs or nuts, or something like utterly radical like going to bed an hour earlier! They are not only beneficial to your mind and body, but who knows? You might actually enjoy them!

How you define a ‘treat’ is totally up to you.  One of my special treats for dessert is dish of dried figs and some Brie.  It’s basically a fruit & cheese plate but I love it!  A treat also doesn’t have to be food.  Some of you may know I have two poodle mixes, Remy (5) and Bentley (18 months) and while they are both poodle mixes, they have very different personalities. Bentley loves a new cookie or a chewer but Remy? His idea of a treat is several minutes of playing fetch! Give him a choice of a food treat or his favorite fetch ball, and woof! throw the ball! If he even takes the cookie from my hand, it’s left in his bed for Bentley to steal.  He’d rather play with the ball every time.  Why? Because for him, playing fetch is something more special than any cookie or chewer I can offer. He doesn’t care if Bentley eats all his cookies and if all the chewers end up in Bentley’s bed, as long as the fetch toys stay in his!

In the end, it’s up to you to decide what is really a treat for you.  If you love Twizzlers and decide that’s what you are going to indulge in this holiday, good for you! (I will gladly donate my share!) My only advice when it comes to treats, Twizzlers or not, is this: make sure it is something you mindfully enjoy! Whether it’s taking a day off to binge The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with a bowl of popcorn, or sleeping late on Sunday morning or even finishing off the last of the pumpkin loaf, as long as it is something special and enjoyable to you and you are paying attention to your enjoyment of it, then it really counts as a TREAT.  Scarfing down the last popcorn ball as you’re running out the door to Target doesn’t count as a treat because, really, did you enjoy that popcorn ball? If and when you decide to treat yourself, then make the most of it! Set aside the time to enjoy that bowl of popcorn! Save the pumpkin loaf for a time when you can eat it without being rushed or distracted! Or if it’s sleeping in or lounging on the sofa with a book, then do it without distraction or interruption.  This is your treat after all, whether it’s edible or not!